Body mass index (BMI) is the ‘measuring rod’ of nutritional status. This study investigates the type and extent of correlation between adult male BMI and socioeconomic, cultural and bio-demographical variables using data from 11,496 individuals from 38 districts of Central India. For each individual, stature, body weight and sitting height data were collected, their Cormic index and BMI computed, and averages for each district calculated. Mean BMI was found to be lowest for the population of Tikamgarh (17·90±1·91 kg m−2) and highest for that of Durg district (19·33±2·16 kg m−2), whereas the mean BMI for the total population of Central India was 18·67±2·18 kg m−2, which is lower than that of well-to-do individuals in India as a whole. The F ratio indicates that there is inter-district variation in anthropometric characteristics of populations. District-wise biosocial indicators were obtained, namely population density per square kilometre, percentage urban population, percentage of population that is of scheduled caste/tribe, sex ratio, average rural population per PHC/CHC (primary or community health centre), literacy rate, life expectancy, total fertility rate, infant mortality rate, gender development index and human development index. Most of these variables were found to be significantly correlated with each other, but BMI was only significantly correlated with three of them, viz. gender development index (R2=0·211), life expectancy (R2=0·130) and infant mortality rate (R2=0·128). Gender development index and life expectancy were positively correlated with BMI, whereas infant mortality rate was negatively correlated. It is concluded that if BMI increases then life expectancy will also increase. Thus better nutritional status may be a helpful tool for reducing infant mortality rate, which is an indicator of socioeconomic status, health condition, health care and ultimately overall development of a region or population.